Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Singing Bone

Here is the latest flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. The assignment was to pick a fairy tale and rewrite it in a style/subgenre chosen randomly from a list of 20. Easy enough, but what the hell is Grimdark Fantasy? I looked into it, and found it to be indicative of a dark world, where everything is crap and nobody is happy for very long. This isn’t as gritty or crusty as it might be, but the Grimm’s weren’t known for happily ever after anyway.

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I stitch the linen through the dark of the night. Every time the needle pierces fabric I think of my love and the spear with which he slew a dread beast. Under my breath I hum a tune, lines of music, words which I shall never sing aloud.

ah, friend thou blowest upon my bone.

Long have I lain beside the water…

 

It seemed we could never be together. He was the son of a poor farmer, who toiled long hours for little pay, and never could quite get the muck off his boots or the dirt from under his nails. But oh, he was fair, and oh, he was kind, and there was never another man of his like in this land. I was—am—the only daughter of the king, so, though no suitors yet pursued me, our interactions were necessarily limited. I am, however, a smart princess, and devised a plan.

There was, in this land, a fierce boar. This beast, through size and terrible temper, had become a bane upon farmers and hunters, goring all who tried to slay it. Mothers would scare their children to sleep with tales of the creature, and the fear of their guts crusting his tusks if they stayed awake acted like warm, honeyed milk upon the wee ones.

Farmers had complained about the attacks on their livestock for years, and the king, my father, had lost many hunters in the boar’s forest. He had been loathe to lose anymore, and advised all to avoid the forest. Most took the advice, as the kingdom did not have a surfeit of courageous lords.

I take a break from stitching seams to embellish the fabric with embroidery of acanthus leaves. I work the twining vines into my love’s initials, and remember my excellent, tragic plan.

When the boar killed another huntsman, one of father’s favourites, I mentioned that, had anyone the courage to slay this abomination I would happily wed them. Father jumped at this opportunity to deal with two necessary tasks, and I nearly jumped at the chance to be with my love forever. I knew others might take up the challenge, and I knew that the boar may well kill my young farmer, but I was not one to leave such things to fate.

From a craftsman of my acquaintance I commissioned a boar spear—strong, with a long winged blade so the animal can’t run up the shaft and kill you as it dies. A former court magician—skilled, but not in favour—placed a spell upon the spear: It’s wielder was protected from harm while using it, and once it had performed its task a lamp, which I kept in my chambers, would light on its own. I arranged for a man in my service to wait in the forest and offer the magic spear.

Unfortunately, I didn’t plan for the brother.

When my love traveled to court to accept the challenge, his brother accompanied him. Where my love was honest, kind and true his brother was lazy, avaricious, and saw a way to an easier life. Where my love was challenging the boar in hopes of spending his life with the woman he loved his brother saw the quest as a chance to bed a princess and never work again. I couldn’t say this to my father, so I kept my own counsel and hoped my plan would work.

My father decreed that the brothers would enter the forest from opposite sides, so that a meeting with the boar would be more likely.

I knew my love had entered the forest. I knew my man had given him the magical spear, and I also knew that he had killed the boar. Yet it was his brother who lay the tusken monster in front of the throne and claimed me as his prize. I said nothing, only mourned silently, accepted my fate, and wondered what had happened.

I wondered for ten years. Whenever I looked at my son, who thankfully does not follow the inclinations of his father, I wondered. I wonder no longer.

     Two days ago a shepherd came to court, to show the king a curiousity. He had found a bone in the mud under a bridge, and had carved a small pipe from it. Instead of playing jigs and reels this pipe played a single plaintive tune.

ah, friend thou blowest upon my bone.

Long have I lain beside the water,

my brother slew me for the boar,

and took for his wife the king’s young daughter.

 

Of course, he said, he had to show it to the king. Of course we knew immediately whose voice sang from the pipe, and of course hot irons on the soles of my husband’s feet loosened the tale from his throat.

     His brother, my love, killed the boar, and when he left the forest found an inn, where all manner of ruffians caroused. His brother was inside. He hadn’t even entered the forest, but had spent some hours gathering liquid courage and upon seeing his victorious sibling invited him in for a stoup of wine. After several such they left the inn and on the way crossed a bridge. Halfway across the brother took a rock and crushed the skull of my farm boy. He buried him in the shadow of the bridge, and carried the boar to the castle to claim his prize.

     Yesterday we found my love’s remains, and buried them, and the grisly whistle, in the churchyard.

     Tomorrow I will watch as guards force my husband into this bag, along with several rocks. I will personally sew it shut with ugly, coarse twine, then watch as he is carried to the bridge, thrown into the river and drowned.

     Only then will I return to my chambers and weep.

     But now I stitch a man-sized bag, and hum four lines of verse, and every needle through the cloth is as a boar spear in my heart.

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Loose Ends

Here’s another Flash Fiction challenge. This one involves randomly (or not) choosing a character (or two) a setting, and an “uh-oh.” I used random.org to pick out a dirty cop and an assassin in a trailer park, but picked “Something precious, stolen” myself. There’s a 2,000 word limit, but this runs around 1,500 words.

 

The kid sat on a tattered lawn chair eating a popsicle, and watched as the tan Camry pulled into the visitor parking spot. The car itself only distracted him for a moment, as his focus was licking the icy treat faster than the day’s heat could melt it, and thus drip red dye onto his pasty chest. The doors opened and two people, a man and a woman, got out, both dressed in dark suits and crisp white shirts. They closed the door and locked it with an electronic chirp, then looked around. There was no-one except the kid, so they ambled over, the man loosening his tie, the woman lowering her sunglasses.

                “Excuse me,” said the man. “I’m looking for my friend Frankie, Frankie Foscari? You know him?” He measured height and girth with his hand.

                “So tall? Very fat?” The kid just stared and licked his popsicle.

                “Much smell,” the woman muttered under her breath.

                “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” he said without missing a lick. The man reached into his pocket and flashed a badge.

                “I’m John and this is…Marcia,” he said. “Now we’re not strangers, right?. So do you know my friend?” The kid shook his head, licked more ice and tipped his chair back and forth with his toes.

                “I’m Alvin,” he said. “I like red popsicles the best. My mom and dad are divorced. What kind of popsicles do you-“ the woman cut him off by grabbing his popsicle and tossing it into the dirt.

                “24 Belladonna Crescent,” she said. Alvin’s eyes got big, but he looked and pointed down the road, into the depths of the trailer park. His eyes followed them as they left.

                Some of the trailers on the outer edge of the park were quite nice, thought ‘John.’ There were flowers and little picket fences, painted trim on some of the units. These people were house proud. He could appreciate that. That changed the further in they went. The postage stamp-sized yards started looking overgrown, the paint was peeling and crap was often piled up against the trailer itself.

                “Christ on a bike it’s hot,” he said. “I don’t usually wear the suit unless I’m in court or something. Why did I need it today?” He wiped his forehead and shook the sweat onto the ground. More sweat spotted the front of his dress shirt. “I’ve been in court too much, lately. Thought I might catch a break from the monkey suit.”

                “Respectability and anonymity,” replied ‘Marcia.’ “When you’re in a suit people will listen to you, but not really remember what you looked like. Also, just because you are a dirty cop doesn’t mean you have to look like one.”

                “Says the paragon of virtue.”

                “Hey, at least I don’t pretend to be an upstanding citizen and role model,” she said. “Anybody who meets me more than once knows I’m an evil bitch, but they also know I’m a professional.” She undid the top button of her shirt, still bleach white and pristine. “I have a reputation to uphold.”

John ran a hand through thinning grey hair.

                “Yeah, I know I’m not a role model or anything,” he said. “I know I’ve done some bad shit, but I like to think I do some good. I can’t ever get away from you guys, sure, but I think I raised my kids right. I’ll retire and be a good grandpa some day. That’s good, right?” Marcia shrugged, and they kept walking.

They passed a succession of flower-named streets lined with decrepit trailers–Rhododendron Lane, Oleander Court. It seemed that the nicer the street name, the rattier its tenants.

“Where are all the people?” he asked. “Nice day like this you think people would be sitting on the porch having a beer or something.”

“More than half of these are empty,” she replied. “You can’t sell a used trailer. Nobody buys a frickin’ used trailer. If you can’t make the payments you just move out at night and leave it behind. A lot of folks still around don’t have the kind of job that lets them take a day off for the beach, so they’re at work. There’ll be a few around, but I’d bet they’re inside watching soap operas in front of an electric fan and won’t move for anything short of a hurricane.” They walked some more.

“So this guy you’re gonna off today,” he asked, “What’s the deal with him? He took something from you, or he’s just an asshole?” She looked at him over the rim of her RayBans.

“If I did every mook who was an asshole to us there wouldn’t be anyone left to do business with. Anyway, it’s rarely personal like that.” They walked in silence for a minute before she spoke again.

“I guess you could say he took something from us,” she said, “but not in the usual sense, not like, money or anything. Something more…rare.  I’ll tell you more once it’s done.”

Belladonna Crescent, once they reached it, had a single tenant, a dirty Airstream trailer with two milk crates as a front step. A blue Mercury Marquis sat in front of it, tires deflated and surrounded by weeds. Dirt coated the car, and someone had used their fingers to scrawl “Experimental dirt: Do not wash” and “I wish my wife was this dirty.” Even those were partially obscured by more dirt.

“This the one?” John asked. Marcia nodded, so he stepped forward and banged three times on the door as she donned a pair of latex gloves.

“Mr. Foscari? Francesco Foscari?” He banged again. “Open up. This is the police.” There was no answer. Three more bangs.

“Mr. Foscari, this is the police. Open up, please.” Still no answer. John stepped back and waved Marcia forward with a flourish.

“After you,” he said. She stepped forward with lock picks.

“You sure you want to bust in there without your piece?” he asked.

“You telling me how to do my job, John?” she replied. “Do I go down to the docks and slap the sailors’ dicks out of your mouth?”

“Blow me,” he said. “Just do what you gotta do.” She leaned in and popped the lock within seconds. Drawing a handgun from a shoulder holster she moved to the side, pulled the door open, and waited. Nothing happened. Leading with her firearm she stepped in and swept the room. John followed. The place looked like it had been empty for a long time. Garbage was strewn over the floor, stacks of pizza boxes sat on the couch, and it smelled like the fridge had been filled with meat then unplugged. John gagged on the odour, but kept his lunch down.

“I’ll check the bathroom,” said Marcia. “You look in the bedroom.” He headed toward the far end of the trailer as she took a silencer from her jacket pocket and threaded it onto her gun.

“Bedroom’s clear,” John said, as he came back to the main room and was met by a round in the forehead. A second one followed before he crumpled to the floor. Marcia removed the silencer and holstered her weapon before going through his pockets and taking his police badge, wallet and police issue service pistol. She grabbed his feet and started dragging him to the bedroom.

“I meant to tell you about this, John, I really did,” she said, “but I’ve seen enough Bond movies to know you don’t spout off your plans before you kill the guy. It’s inefficient, unprofessional, and, frankly, its bragging. I don’t like to brag, I just like to do the job.” She got him into the bedroom and pulled him to the far side of the sunken, sheetless bed and started covering him with blankets.

“This is just doing a job, John,” she continued. “You’re not a bad guy, for someone who totally abuses the trust of your position. It’s just that your testimony is getting awfully close to our interests, and if that happens we lose out. Anonymity and respect, John. It all comes back to those. They are our precious stock in trade, and if you steal those we’re kinda screwed. So nothing personal, but you’re a loose end.” Having completely covered the body she left the trailer, locking it behind her. She stripped off the latex gloves, stuck them in her pocket and started the trek back to the car. It really was hot, she thought.

Alvin hadn’t moved. His eyes tracked her as she approached the car. She tossed John’s effects into the trunk and Alvin still licked the popsicle, possibly a different popsicle, but still a red one. He rocked the chair backward, then crashed it back down. She looked at him as she opened the door.

“Shit,” she said after a moment. “I hate loose ends.” She closed the door and walked toward the kid.

“Hey Alvin,” she said. “Can I show you something?”

Five minutes later the Camry kicked up dust as it pulled onto the highway, its only witness a red popsicle melting onto a vinyl lawn chair.

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Hmmm…

I just realized I end most of my writing with some little kicker line at the end. I think it works for those, but I think I should consciously try and avoid them for a while. I’ve also been looking over things and noticing cliches, lazy writing, and seeing things I could add. I guess it’s time to polish them off and build on them.

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Now what?

Right. So I actually finished something I started. Now what? Do I keep this for flash fiction challenges only? Ostensibly if I’m producing half decent stories I’ll eventually want to try to sell some of them. Would there be some kind of issue with posting them on a blog? Who knows.

Perhaps I’ll just wait until I finish something else and see how I feel then.

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